Monday, December 29, 2008

5 months gluten and dairy free

First of all... our Christmas was so good. Our morning began with baby Jesus finally making his appearance in the manger safe and sound. Then there was lots of unwrapping, coffee, a short drive to grandparents' house, more unwrapping, lots of food, laughing, more food, short drive home, and finally falling into bed happy and full. All I know is... Christmas is so much better with kids.

Now our other news...we have successfully reached 5 months with no gluten and no dairy! It has not been easy but it hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be either. I only briefly mentioned it before so I thought I'd elaborate a little more on it now.

Sometime in the last few years I realized I had spent my adult life so far avoiding breads, especially breads with sugar. For years I never connected it until I began to pay attention and realized how miserable I felt afterward, not to mention how quickly I could gain weight (and did) by eating one measly little cinnamon roll. Once I made the connection, I tried just avoiding simple carbs but never with much success because, really, I loved them so.

Around this time, we had Ian. He was a good baby, very healthy and happy. But somewhere around 9 months old we got a lot of comments on how little he was. When I look back I can see just how tiny he was but it's so hard to see at the time. I finally pinpointed his slow growth that began at 6 months old (coinciding with him eating solids/cereal for the first time). He went from the 50th percentile to not even on the chart in a few short months. He managed to squeak by his one year birthday at 18 lbs even... keeping him under the percentile chart where he stayed until his 2nd birthday when he made it to 5th percentile. I chalked it up to just being him and that he would hit a growth spurt sometime. His pediatrician thought he saw signs of an allergy but after certain half-hearted elimination diets we didn't see many changes so we just left it alone.

Finally this last summer I decided I was done trying to figure it out on my own and paid for testing for both of us. I had been wondering if it was a gluten intolerance with me for quite some time and wanted to know for sure. So Ian and I were tested for both gluten and casein allergies. A couple of weeks later I got the results and it showed yes and yes on all accounts. We both had gluten and casein intolerances. At first I was upset. I knew it meant a lot of work but then I felt relieved once I started reading about the symptoms. I realized that so much of what I had gone through in the past and what Ian was currently experiencing all came down to the fact that eating this food was bad for us.

The short of it is I have never felt better in my life. My digestion and my health have improved greatly, I no longer feel sick after eating, and it's changing my thyroid and hormone levels to where they should be and haven't been in many years.

The bigger news is Ian. He went from chronic diarrhea 3 to 4 times a day (insane first time parents thought it was normal since that's how it's always been for him) to normal and only once a day. And he's growing! I measured him on his birthday last February, and in 6 months, from February to August he only grew 1/2" in height. We began the gluten-free/casein-free diet in August and within 1 month he had grown a full inch! He's now grown 2 full inches in 4 short months and he's still growing, officially reaching the 50th percentile for his height. He looks healthier and hardier than ever before. It's been nothing short of amazing to see.

About 6 weeks into it, we let him have a couple bites of ice cream to see how he would react. He had diarrhea for 4 straight days. We knew then that we couldn't budge at all and we haven't. And my family has completely stepped up to the challenge and makes sure we have food we can eat at all family gatherings. It's a huge relief for us because making sure we always have snacks on hand isn't the easiest thing to do. Ian has responded really well too and always asks us first if he can eat a certain food. He knows to ask if it has gluten or dairy in it and doesn't argue if we tell him it does... he puts it down and finds something else to eat.

In people with gluten intolerances or celiac disease, gluten damages the villi in the small intestine causing malabsorption making it very hard to properly absorb nutrients. For years, the "classic" symptoms were weight loss, poor digestion, and failure to thrive in infants and children. But they are finding the symptoms can vary greatly, just like in Ian and myself. It is completely treatable with a gluten-free diet and the intestines will heal over time as long as gluten is no longer eaten.

In case you don't know... gluten is a protein found in flours like wheat, rye, and barley. It's basically the glue that holds breads together giving bread that light fluffiness. So this means all wheat breads, crackers, pasta, cereals, pastries, etc.... are out. But it's not just bread products it's in, it's in the majority of processed foods, soy sauces, and certain spices and rubs (especially in restaurants) and is even found in certain shampoos, skin creams, and makeup. Lipstick is the biggest offender because of the close proximity to the mouth. Here's a list of gluten containing foods and ingredients. It means a lot of label reading for our whole family. The other important factor is cross-contamination. Even 0.1 gram of gluten can cause intestinal damage (average person eats 10 to 40 grams of gluten a day) so that means you can't use the same toaster as regular gluten bread, even double dipping with a knife into peanut butter can leave crumbs which can cross-contaminate. There have been several times at a restaurant where the server has forgotten and brought my salad with croutons or the toast with my breakfast and I've had to ask them to make it all over again from scratch, not just to toss the croutons out. It's not easy for me but I'm getting better at it.

Going without gluten has been a fairly easy transition considering. But adding to it that we can't have dairy (casein) and it's been a good challenge for all of us. Unlike lactose (milk sugar), casein is found in the fat of all dairy products which means no milk, cheese, butter, or any products that might contain milk. Although again we have to check labels because even soy milk cheese, a nondairy product, still contains casein.

For now, Sawyer eats gluten and dairy free too. Gluten intolerance tends to run in families and it's easier for me to make one meal for all of us. Thankfully Jeremy doesn't mind at all. He eats like we do at home but enjoys regular pizza and other things when he's out. Overall, we've adjusted well. It helps that we are feeling better and have seen such an improvement in Ian. Also, more and more people are becoming aware of food allergies so the grocery stores carry a good selection of gluten and dairy free products (although not always the same product unfortunately). And we've found a few restaurants that have separate gluten-free menus so it's nice to have a choice when we decide to eat out.

I'm finding that there are so many foods out there that are delicious when they aren't smothered in cheese or eaten with a hunk of bread that fills you up fast. And we still have our favorites... just a bit modified. See?

French toast: Tapioca bread dipped in vanilla hemp milk, eggs, and cinnamon with real maple syrup. It's delicious and actually better than the gluten and dairy version we made before.

I'm so happy we've made it this far. I can see challenges in the future, like traveling, or when the boys get a little older and have to choose for themselves, but we'll tackle those days when they come.



Adam and Raechell said...

I'm so glad that you've been able to stick with this so well. It really helps when there are such drastic problems from a slip up! I'm so glad for Ian that you discovered this so early in his life. How wonderful to hear that you are feeling better also!:D

The picture looks very, very yummy.

Grandpa Fred said...

I am very pleased this has worked out for you. And when we were there, it didn't seem you were eating any different than the rest of us. Hopefully, you guys will be visiting us sometime, so please let us know in advance what we can have on hand to keep you on track.

Kimberly said...

Well done!